Washington

Not to be confused with Washington, DC, the capital of the United States, this Pacific Northwest state is exceptionally beautiful, green, outdoor friendly, eco-friendly, and has a great music scene. Being the birth of grunge music from the 90's, much of the live music is concentrated in the capital city of Seattle. Around the state you have the ocean, mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers. Great place to visit, especially Seattle, and there are a few hidden gems you may not have heard of.

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1. Seattle

Rosehill Drive

Highlights: City, mountains, nature, music, coffee, tech
Suggest Staying: 3-7 days
Stay Around: Belltown/Capitol Hill (central) or Ballard (chill)
Internet: Strong
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Seattle is a great city, full of vibrancy, live music, food, culture, and healthy environmentally conscious people. There is such a rich rock history including Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains just to name a few of my favorites. I had the good fortune to visit the first time during Bumbershoot for that festival which was then also bookended with Alice In Chains and Velvet Revolver in one show and then Muse in another at Key Arena. Over the course of a 10-day trip, I saw 7 days of incredible music!

Since the early 2000s, tech companies (and Starbucks) have dominated the landscape, causing considerable growth and change over the past decade or so. But it’s still a hip city at it’s core. From this expansion, neighborhoods and cities outside of Seattle have grown as well. I’ve only spent any reasonable amount of time in the Seattle area, but there are many sites to see within close proximity, of which even reach as far as to include Vancouver and Portland.

See & Do

  • Pike Place Market. Fish market where there are people actually throwing whole fish around. Also other foods, snack, and treats. Try some apples, there are a variety of different kinds. Honeycrisp especially when in season.
  • Belltown. Neighborhood centrally located.
  • Ballard. Chill, hip neighborhood.
  • Bellevue. Fancy city just outside Seattle.
  • Kirkland. Nice residential city.
  • Redmond. Microsoft campus.
  • Bumbershoot. Annual multi-day music festival. I had such a blast the first year I went which was quite some time ago now. See bands before they become big in a mix of small intimate venues and outdoor pavilions around the city.
  • The Gorge. One of my favorite all time music venues. It’s an outdoor amphitheater where your view over the stage overlooks a massive…wait for it…yes gorge! It’s unreal.
  • Steepologie Teas. Tea.

For The Outdoor Enthusiast

2. Olympic National Park

Rialto Beach

Highlights: Mountains, glaciers, lakes, beaches, forests, hiking
Suggest Staying: 3-6 days
Stay Around: Fairholme Campground
Internet: Weak
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Pictures of this park are just incredible. There are several types of topography, climate, and nature here. First you have the glaciers and mountains which offer stunning views, exceptional hiking, and wildlife galore. Second you have the coast with its cliffside and driftwood littered coastal beaches, some of which you can camp on. Third is the rain forest, the only one of its kind, amongst an impressive old growth forest. There are some towns around, but I highly recommend camping at any of the many large campgrounds. The park is also HUGE, so plan at least a few days to take it all in.

See & Do (By Area)

  • Hurricane Ridge. Take a 20 mile 45 minute gorgeous scenic drive up to the visitor center and hiking trails. Hurricane Hill trail is awesome. Views and very high likelihood of encountering marmots, and possibly grouse.
  • Hoh Rain Forest. Beautiful old growth rain forest. High likelihood of rain at some point during your visit, but the rainforest and its plethora of trees will shield some of the rain making it a perfect time to visit while saving sunny days for the beaches.
  • Fairholme & Lake Crescent. Pretty centrally located around the stunning lake, surrounded by waterfalls like Marymere Falls, Madison Falls and Sol Duc Falls which also has outdoor hot springs and a restaurant. Nearby Elwa has some nice nature along the river if you have some extra time.
  • Kalaloch. Most famously known for the stunning Ruby Beach. Venture down the coast to Beach 4 or Beach 2.
  • Mora. Most famously known for Rialto Beach. There are some very cool rock formations there and around La Push, including First, Second, and Third beaches.
  • Ozette. Technically this includes Shi Shi Beach, but it’s easier to get to from Cape Flattery. Otherwise I didn’t spend time here due to my schedule.
  • Quinalt. Quieter part of the park with some places to stay, but I wouldn’t say much going on. Merriman Falls was cool if you’re going southbound exiting the park.
  • Cape Flattery. If you have the time, highly recommend. Part of the Makah Indian Reservation, not the national park, there are a couple stunning sites to check out. You’ll need to purchase a $20 permit that you can get in the town of Neah Bay, which is well worth it. The 1.5 mile roundtrip forest hike to Cape Flattery is absolutely breathtaking for its coastal cliffs opening up to the sea and various bird nesting. Next head to Shi Shi Beach which is about 2 miles one way to this super cool place with incredible rock formations. You can even camp on the beach. Sunsets and sunrises look incredible. If you like to explore, there are some places where you can climb over some rocks to secret beaches. Hint: look for ropes. You can continue farther down the beach if you plan to stay in the area for a few hours for more cool rock formations out at sea.

3-Day Itinerary

  • Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent. Morning: get up early and drive the scenic Hurricane Ridge and do the Hurricane Hill hike. Afternoon: drive along Lake Crescent to Marymere Falls and end at Sol Duc Falls where you can also take a dip in the hot springs.
  • Hoh Rainforest & Mora. Morning: arrive at Hoh early and walk the two short, easy trails. Likely won’t be there more than a couple hours. Afternoon: head out to the coast to La Push and Rialto Beach.
  • Kalaloch. Back to the coast, meander along Ruby Beach and others along the coast. If you’re not staying here, it will be a long drive out and back, otherwise you can camp here and head out of the park from here.

5-Day Itinerary (additional 2 days)

  • Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach. Probably won’t take the full day, but don’t underestimate the drive out and back if you’re wanting to cram something else in for the day.
  • Buffer Day and/or Port Angeles. Due to the unpredictable weather, it’s good to have an extra day in case of inclement weather. Furthermore, offers a break depending on previous day activities or if you just want to chill and enjoy or return to a particular area of the park. Or outside the park. Port Angeles has some ferry tours, shops, museums, and restaurants, though not much to see and do.

Food & Drink

  • Hard Rain Cafe. Great stop en route to the Hoh Rainforest or passing through that way to the coast.
  • Port Angeles Wharf. Food hall.

Tips

  • Getting There. Several hours from Seattle, if you’re flying, it’s probably easiest to land here and rent a car, though there is an airport in Port Angeles. If you’re driving, there are several different driving routes to get here depending on where you’re coming from. I was coming from North Cascades and originally going to take the ferry to Port Townsend. It looked like it would be a nice archipelago drive straight along highway 20. However, I ended up instead going by way of Seattle since it wasn’t that much out of the way, I ended up having an extra day available, was a bit nervous about reserving a spot on the ferry (you can do this in advance, but I couldn’t guarantee my day/time of arrival), and wanted to see some friends and family. The San Juan Islands could also be a detour which I hear are lovely. If you’re coming from the south it’s a bit easier and more direct.
  • Getting Around & Planning. You can really only do 2 parts of the park at most in one day because it’s anywhere between 30-90 minutes driving between areas of the park. It’s huge! I’d recommend picking one area for the morning and then another for the afternoon. More popular places like Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rainforest are best to arrive early in the mornings before 9am to avoid crowds and just to find parking. Otherwise you might have to wait for 1-3 hours and not even get in due to parking lots filling up. Especially during peak summer season. Other areas of the park will die down towards mid-later afternoon. It stays light in the summer so you’ll have plenty of time to keep exploring.
  • Where To Stay. I stayed at Fairholme Campground amongst the huge trees along the lake which was lovely. There are many campgrounds with many sites. I felt this was the most centrally located for all the things I wanted to do, least windy, less humid for mosquitoes, and right off the main road. Other popular campgrounds include Hoh Rainforest and Kalaloch. All 3 major campgrounds offer a different experience. If you are rolling through the park in a few days, it might make sense to camp at each, which makes driving more efficient. However, the tradeoff is trying to actually reserve and find a spot as well as just having a home base which might be preferred for longer stays. If you want more of a town vibe, Port Angeles is your best bet.
  • Making Campground Reservations. Site books up insanely fast and months in advance. The park offers a rolling calendar releasing sites at 6 months, 14 days, and 4 days prior to your arrival. Check the park website and when it’s the day of to reserve your site, get on the web ASAP as sites can fill up in a matter of minutes.
  • Showers. None at any of the park campgrounds. You could try nearby state parks but they’re quite far. Two other options are to pick up some wipes at an outdoor store like REI or go to Sol Duc Hot Spring and shower before and after there.

3. North Cascades National Park

Diablo Lake

Highlights: Mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, forests, hiking
Suggest Staying: 2-5 days
Stay Around: Newhalem (Campground) or Marblemount
Internet: None
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See one photo of Diablo Lake and that’s more than enough motivation to visit this off the beaten path amazing park. Less visited than Olympic or Mount Rainier simply because it’s more difficult logistically to get out there, this park is stunning. And once you get there, doable in just a couple of days to see the highlights. Of course you can extend your stay if you want to camp for longer, enjoy the lakes, or take in more hiking. The hydroelectric dam system along the cascades is quite impressive. For you Beat Generation fans, Jack Kerouac spent 2 seasons at Desolation Peak which inspired Desolation Angels.

See & Do

  • North Cascades Highway. Main road offering a beautiful drive through the park.
  • Diablo Lake. Emerald green, one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen.
  • Ross Dam. You can hike to the top of this dam with great, steep views and even cross over to the other side. Bit steep of a hike on the way back but nothing too crazy.
  • Washington Pass Overlook. Stellar views of the cascade mountains.
  • Gorge Dam Overlook. Nice views.
  • Rainy Lake. Short 2 mile one-way hike from Maple Pass Trailhead to a beautiful lake. There are also some other hikes from this trailhead.
  • Thunder Knob and Thunder Creek. Hike along the creek through the forest or hang out by the lake.
  • Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail. Long, strenuous 12 mile roundtrip hike with sweeping views and wildlife spotting opportunities. Check the weather before you go. There are many switchbacks and elevation gain not to mention TONS of flies (at least in July) which honestly made the hike very unpleasant. They are relentless when you’re stopped. Take bug spray or even wear a mosquito net hat. In my opinion you get great views at the parking lot and only need to go further if you want to hike, which is only really worth it if you do the whole thing.
  • Sauk Mountain. Another challenging hike, but you get some great views of the river below and mountains off in the distance.
  • Trail of the Cedars. Short 0.3 mile hike amongst an old growth forest.
  • Ladder Creek Falls. Neat little creek and waterfall that’s lit up at night. Offers interesting facts about the hydroelectric history.

Food & Drink

  • Up River Grill & Taproom. Really good food, indoor/outdoor seating. One of only a couple restaurants in this area.

Nearby

  • Manzana, Winthrop, Twisp. Most of the action is on the west side of the park, but if you’re coming in from the east side and looking for even more to do, check out these towns for hiking and river activities. You can also fuel up and find snacks.

Tips

  • When To Go. Summer of course is best, July through mid September. It actually can get quite hot in the middle of summer and then quite cold in cooler months. Check for road closures due to snow. The park website has more info.
  • Where To Stay. Newhalem I thought has the best campground and was most centrally located to what I wanted to see. There are some other campgrounds in the area though. Newhalem is a very small town with some supplies, but there aren’t really many towns nearby. Marblemount or Concrete on the west side and Mazama or Withrop on the east side are your best bets if you’re not into camping.
  • Showers. There really aren’t any nearby if your’e camping. Supposely in Rockport. While I don’t condone bathing in the beautifully clear glacial rivers, swimming is a great way to get some of the funk off from the day(s) as well as get in a cold plunge. And let me tell you, even in mid summer it’s freaking cold! The river by Newhalem Campground is a perfect spot for chilling and/or swimming near the shore line. Be careful of going out too far, the current can be quite fast!
  • Water. If you have a water filtration system, in my case I have a Grayl Geopress, I’d try out some water from the river. It tastes great. Just be mindful to only get water and leave out any silt or sediment to prolong the life of your filter. Generally smart not to drink directly from a river or lake to avoid potentially getting sick.

4. Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park

Highlights: Mountain, lakes, hiking
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Internet: None
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If you do nothing other than drive in to take some pictures of Mount Rainier you’ll be happy. But there are also scenic drives and hiking trails. It’s not as big nor do you need as many days to explore as the other WA parks, but it’s bigger and more crowded than I expected. Likely due to its close proximity to Seattle. I wasn’t sure how much time was needed nor how excited I was to spend more than a day, but it’s gorgeous and you can do the park in one or two full days or two half days as I did to see the highlights.

See & Do

  • Paradise. One of the main and most popular areas in the park for views and hiking. Go early, parking lot fills up fast!
  • Sunrise. Highest point in the park with views and hiking accessible via scenic drive. Great place for sunrise, duh, though depends on where you’re staying as to when you’d need to wake up. Parking clears out after 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
  • Ohanapencosh. River area with crystal clear, beautiful, colorful blue emerald waters. Has a campground. Silver Falls is amazing, highly recommend. If you’re adventurous, hike back along the river to more, smaller falls and swimming areas. The hike itself through the green forests is also lovely.
  • Sourdough Ridge. Hiking area with several trails, lakes.
  • Narada Falls. Beautiful waterfall where you’re likely to see rainbows from the falls.
  • Steven’s Canyon Road. Scenic road with great views. Highly recommend. Stop at Inspiration Point and Reflection Lake where you’ll get great views of Mount Rainier. I even saw a marmot.
  • Ricksecker Point. Outstanding views. Definitely go early in the morning for misty covering of Mount Rainier, though warning it may be completely covered, and/or at sunset.
  • Box Canyon. Slot canyon on one side of the road with mountain views on the other. Worth stopping if you’re passing, but wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
  • Longmire. Area of the park with accommodations and some history.

Tips

  • Where To Stay. If you’re camping, staying closer to Paradise is more accessible to more things. Secondary would be Ohanapencosh. If you’re looking for lodging, Ashford and Elbe have some places that I’m sure fill up fast.
  • Planning. If you’re going on a weekend during peak season in the summer/fall, be prepared for long wait times to get into the park if you don’t arrive early. I arrived on a Saturday in July around 9am coming from Olympia and had to wait for at least 45 minutes at the south entrance. I would definitely recommend going during the week if plans allow for it.
  • Getting Around. Paradise to Sunrise is about a 90 minute drive, plus factor in stops and traffic. Steven’s Canyon Road also closes sometimes, so check the park website for details.

5. Mount St Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens

Highlights: Volcano, lakes
Suggest Staying: 1 day
Stay Around: Seattle or Portland
Internet: None
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A powerful eruption of this volcano occurred in the 1980s and could be heard all the way up in Canada! It’s spectacular to photograph and there’s a massive lava field. There are two main roads at opposite ends into the park which are not connected directly. You have to drive in and back out to the main highway, so if you want to do both, plan double the time. The main route 504 takes you past the interpretive center and other viewpoints. The other route 503 will take you to Ape Cave.

Other Considerations


Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls

What a remarkable place. Driving up to the visitor’s center reminded me of the Grand Canyon a bit, much smaller scale of course, with spectacular views of this ancient ravine. Driving down opens up to more incredible views of the lake below with clear waters and gorgeous backdrop of the canyon walls. After seeing pictures of this unique and beautiful place, I decided to stay overnight on my way to Seattle from Spokane. There are both RV and camp sites, some which are more traditional campgrounds with others as part of a large tree shaded parking lot. There’s a cool dirt road trail that’s easy and quite fun to drive, along with a few hiking trails. Great stop over.

Internet: Weak

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls

These breathtaking towering falls are just outside Snoqualmie’s town center, which in and of itself is a nice visit. I actually learned about this place from a tea barista in Missoula who grew up there funny enough. There are views from both the top and down below along the river. It’s about a quarter mile paved walk down to the lower falls, though I think you can park there as well. It can be a bit steep on the way back up depending on your fitness level, but nothing too crazy. There’s also a hydroelectric plant. Located just outside of Seattle makes it quite accessible and an easy day trip.

Olympia

Olympia

I really dug the small artsy hipster town of Olympia. Only about an hour from Seattle, Olympia feels like its younger cousin. Around the Historic District are some great restaurants (Sidewalk Cafe, Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar), awesome tea shops (Encore Chocolates and Teas, Rediviva Tea & Coffee), fun shops, and a fantastic well known farmer’s market. A very walkable city hugging an inlet for all of the folks whose boats reside in the marina. Some blocks are a little grungy in contrast with the nicer areas, but I thought that was part of the charm of this low key city. While you can certainly visit from Seattle, I ended up staying overnight at the Olympia Hotel at Capitol Lake, which was super cool, because I wanted to do some exploring. It’s also a bit cheaper to stay in Olympia and was an hour closer to my next destination Mount Rainier. Be sure to stop by Tumwater Falls while you’re there or on your way out of town. There’s also an Oregon Trail Route Historical Marker right there for you history buffs.

Internet: Strong

Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan

I heard about this place from another traveler while visiting Mammoth Cave National Park. Seems to be a vacation spot for a lot of people in Washington. I’m not big into boating but I love lakes and scenery. This lake is quite large and nestled in the mountains. Great place to get away and relax.

Leavenworth

Leavenworth

I stumbled upon this neat little Bavarian (German) themed town on a road trip through the state and when I reached Seattle, was told by many people there it was a great town to visit. Wish it hadn’t been pouring as I drove through.

Spokane

Spokane

An under the radar city, Spokane is a neat little place. Small city feel, big city amenities. It has its Riverfront Park and hip cafes like Indaba Coffee and Soulful Soups. Revival Tea Company has an above ground tea store and underground speakeasy style tea bar which is awesome. Nice tea, even some non-alcoholic hops based teas on tap. Atticus Coffee & Gifts, Boo Radley’s toy store, and Auntie’s Bookstore are a must. I imagine there is live music around and think I even saw some comedy clubs. For those familiar with the film Benny & Joon, the house where it was filmed is along the river at 301 N Cedar St. It’s a good stopover if you’re looking for a city on the way from Montana or Wyoming (like from Yellowstone) en route to Seattle.

Internet: Strong

General Tips

  • Weather. While in Seattle it rarely snows much, Washington state as a whole is pretty far north. The farther inland you get, the more mountainous and higher in elevation. So check the weather and for road closures if visiting late fall, winter, or early spring. The Pacific Northwest closer to the coast has the (accurate) reputation of being quite dreary and gray most of the year, though there are of course nice days. Summers are beautiful and pleasant.
  • Camping Reservations. In all 3 national parks, campsites are in high demand and fill up months in advance during peak season. Reservations made available in increments to give more people a chance to book. Mark down the dates you want and get on the website ASAP on the reservation day, as sites can fill up in a matter of minutes. Check recreation.gov for reservable sites and when they're available to book.

2 Replies to “Washington”

  1. Still reading these and loving them Justin! Hope you and yours are well. ❤️
    Jess O’Rourke, your former LM friend!

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